RSS promises 413,000 North West homes by 2021

Developers will be hoping for an easing of restrictions on new housing applications by local planning authorities after the Regional Spatial Strategy was published today by the Government Office for the North West.

The blueprint, last updated in 2003, removes the maximum quota for housing targets in each borough. Targets are now merely indicative, without a fixed ceiling.

The statutory document also encourages councils to make room for so-called affordable stock in addition to the targets if deemed necessary in an area of high demand but poor values.

Richard Walters, partner in planning and development at Knight Frank, said the biggest highlight was the fact of publication itself. He added: "The main thing is that it is now out and the waiting is over. A lot of councils have been sitting on their hands saying they want to see the final housing numbers before deciding on certain sites; well now they have them."

The overall allocation has nearly doubled from the 12,790 annual provision prescribed in March 2003 to 23,111 a year this time.

The increase reflects the acknowledgement – many housebuilders would say far too late – that demand was greater than that reflected by Government policy.

In Manchester, the provision nearly triples from 1,350 to 3,500 a year and in Salford likewise from 530 to 1,600. Liverpool rises from 1,110 to 1,950 units a year and in Wirral, from 160 to 500.

Cheshire, an area where housebuilders have suffered arguably the tightest restraint, the provision is almost flat, nudging from 1,630 to 1,767 a year.

In addition, the Government's new housing Growth Point areas will boost targets by a further 25% in Greater Manchester, Mersey Heartlands, Halton, St Helens, Warrington, Knowsley, Central Lancashire and Blackpool, Carlisle and West Cheshire.

Walters added: "Local authorities have each been taking a different view until now with some using their discretion more than others to allow schemes through. We will be keen to see now whether a site that had the highest sustainability criteria and was only being stopped from getting planning due to housing provision numbers now gets through."

The irony is of course that the RSS is published as the appetite for housebuilding is at an all-time low.

Richard Moffat, director of LSH's planning team in Manchester, said: "For five years we've had a situation where planning has been closed for business and the market open. Now we have a situation where the market is closed and planning is open."

The current market suited major North West landowners preparing sites for the future, Moffat said, readying themselves to deal with developers when they come back to the table. For now, many developers are shying away from planning as options to buy sites from landowners remain over-priced given the lack of demand caused by the credit crunch.

The RSS also makes a large play of the importance of housing the ageing population, with repeated references to the need for planning authorities to make special provision for elderly residential sites.

The document can be viewed and downloaded from the website of Government Office for the North West.

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